It’s a short opinion piece that is mainly intended to introduce the concept of social entrepreneurship to an audience of conservation scientists. The article should definitely not be considered as a how-to guide to conservation entrepreneurship, nor is it a comprehensive review of all the ways entrepreneurship can help to protect biodiversity. Instead, I hoped to convey three key points:
(1) there are conservation problems that are especially amenable to small, fast bootstrapped solutions;
(2) there are new ways of funding conservation initiatives that weren’t available 10 years ago; and
(3) most early-career conservation biologists in the current employment landscape will, at some point, be unemployed, so self-started conservation initiatives could become a necessity.
The Theory of Island Biogeography is remarkable because it suggests that patterns of species co-existence are the consequence of chance, history and random dispersal. Before its publication, community ecologists generally assumed that species co-existence was due to deterministic niche-assembly, where the number and relative abundance of species were a result of ecological niches and the functional roles of each species.
Like the theory itself, MacArthur and Wilson have also reached cult-like status. Perhaps a most telling way of illustrating this fact is not by listing the prizes awarded to these two men (and there were many), but rather by listing the academic prizes named after them! The Ecological Society of America, for instance, awards the ‘Robert H. MacArthur Award‘ to eminent mid-career ecologists and the American Society of Naturalists grants the ‘Edward O. Wilson Naturalist Award‘ to mid-career researchers who make significant contributions to a particular ecosystem of group of organisms. Similarly, the International Biogeography Society has the ‘MacArthur & Wilson Award‘ for notable contributions to the field of biogeography. Needless to say, MacArthur and Wilson are very influential and well-respected by contemporary ecologists (well, in most cases…).
The funny thing is that their paradigm shifting idea was actually proposed two decades earlier, by the less well-known lepidopterist Eugene Munroe. Continue reading →
Although ecology doesn’t have many general laws, one most likely to qualify is the species-area relationship. If you walk through a field in a straight line and count all the different species you come across, you’ll notice that the total number of species increases as you progress along your straight path. After a while, however, you’ll start seeing the same species over and over again until you eventually find that you’re no longer spotting any new ones. This is the asymptotic species-area curve. While the exact mathematical form of the relationship is still hotly debated, it is safe to assume that it is an increasing function that reaches a plateau once all the species have been encountered.
Two years ago, I treated myself with a Bushnell 8MP camera trap. I bought this bit of kit purely for my own amusement – without any scientific intentions – but even I can’t believe how much fun I’ve had using it during the last two summers spent at home in South Africa. Below is a little video showcasing some of the cool animals I’ve managed capture on film.
The are some things to consider: I only have one camera so I needed 6 weeks of trapping (over two summers) for this 2 minute compilation. Not that I am complaining; I loved crawling on my belly to set up the camera in a rocky cave. Furthermore, this was all filmed on our family farm – not a nature reserve – so I am sorry to disappoint if you were expecting the big five (Try the BBC, perhaps David Attenborough can provide that?). Lastly, please excuse my amateurish efforts because I know very little about video editing and even less about classical music.
I’ve written about Golden Gate Highlands National Park in the past.
It’s a region that is very close to to my heart; I’ve spent hundreds of hours (and thousands of footsteps) on the sandstone slopes. Unfortunately, there are no complete guides to the hiking routes in the park – so I set out to make one of my own.
You can find route descriptions, hiking profiles, maps and photos of the main routes in the park by visiting this new page on my site. You can also download the route information as .kml shapefiles that can be imported into Google Earth or any other GIS platform.
Should we conserve nature at the expense of the economy? Specifically, should we risk the collapse of major industrial sectors to save species?
We’ve created modern buzzwords like “sustainable development” and “new conservation” to explain multiple-objective conservation programs because many argue that conservation is only sustainable when it aligns with other economic, social and political goals. I’ve even argued this point-of-view in the past. Society is petrified of putting an end to the exploitation of nature because we worry about the terrible consequences of dismantling the modern-day economy. Should we worry about the impending threat of unemployment, debt and unpaid mortgages if we were to choose conservation instead of consumption?
The short answer: No! Well, at least not if the past is any predictor of the future. Continue reading →
As an aspiring ecologist, I am well aware that publishing a paper in Natureor Sciencewould give my career an incredible kick-start. But, like so many others, I didn’t know how to get my name printed on the glossy pages of the two oldest and most prestigious weekly scientific journals. So I did what any good scientist would do – no, this time I didn’t check Wikipedia – I knuckled down and poured over the pages in these celebrated periodicals. I spent countless nights without sleep, trying to crack the code.
Just as I was about to give up, I saw a glimmer of hope: a golden thread linking the fortunate submissions to these two behemoths of academic excellence. I managed to reverse-engineer the path to success and I will be so generous to share my astounding findings with you. But before I do that, a word of warning: my how-to guide only applies to ecological studies. Physicists, physiologists and… um… uh… anyone else (I ran out of alliterative scientific sub-fields) will have to find their own strategies. Continue reading →
If you’re reading this, then it’s safe to assume that you love nature. Your passion for all creatures great and small might even have pushed you to pursue a career in ecology or conservation biology. But is passion enough?
I was in Australia earlier this year to help a colleague with a project he had started; but this post is not about that project. No, this post is about the time I crossed paths with a kangaroo hunter in the middle of nowhere.
We were busy with surveys one night when, like warning shots, a few raindrops started falling from the storm clouds that had gathered above us. Before Mother Nature brought out the heavy artillery, we shuffled down the mountainside and hurriedly set up a makeshift camp at the edge of an abandoned agricultural field. Fortunately for us, she was only bluffing and within an hour we were sitting under a clear sky making general chit-chat until our banter was broken by distant bang. We shrugged it off as the sound of faraway thunder echoing off the mountain side and only realised later that this was not the gentle rumbling of a passing storm; this time it was a real rifle shot. Continue reading →
It examines mythology, its effect on ethics, and how that relates to sustainability. The novel uses a style of Socratic dialogue to deconstruct the notion that humans are the pinnacle of biological evolution. It posits that human supremacy is a cultural myth, and asserts that modern civilization is enacting that myth with dangerous consequences.
I am currently re-reading this book after four years and I find it as thought-provoking and well-written as I did when reading it with fresh eyes. Continue reading →